“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (NIV Lk.6:36)
This verse, chosen by the Moravian Brethren of Herrnhut as the watchword of 2021, was of crucial importance to a Synod meeting of German Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ukraine held on 28-29 of May in the building of St. Catherine’s Church in Kyiv. 13 of 23 GELCU congregations sent their representatives to be present at the Synod, which main subject was Diaconia – Christian testimony through social ministry.
Synod meeting opened with a service, conducted by pastor Vladyslav Tsekhanovych (Shostka). President of the Synod – pastor Alexander Gross – preached a sermon on the Holy Trinity. “God revealed himself as loving and faithful toward us. It is he, who gives us all that we need for our life and ministry. Who can stand against the One, who is up and beyond anything we can ever imagine? In his hands we can find peace for the heart that suffers from injustice” – he reminded everyone present.
After the service, an official part of the Synod meeting began. Participants listened to reports of the Bishop, the President of the Synod, Church cashier, revision committee, accepted them and thanked them for service. The Synod once again approved decisions, taken in relation to the mandate of Bishop Shvarts and the Church Government.
GELCU also admitted the congregation of St. Martin, founded under the leadership of pastor Igor Shemigon. Thanks to its diaconal ministry it has grown and become considerably stronger.
An important part of the Synod was a discussion of a report on diaconia in the Church. It covered a broad spectrum of issues connected with this ministry: from biblical reasoning and clarification of main terms to some specific challenges faced by those who practice diaconal ministry. Particularly, some possible side effects of providing help: when the Church gives it without due wisdom, it can cause a person more harm than good. Unfortunately, GELCU congregations could share many examples from their own experience as an illustration to this statement. That is why collegiate character of decision-making, transparency in financial management, clarity of objectives, honest collections and accountability are crucial. Apart from other things, it will protect against loss of spiritual motivation and emotional burn-out of workers and volunteers.
At the end of the report, participants of the Synod divided into smaller groups, where they discussed what diaconal ministry means for them, how congregations understand it, and what are the directions for developing diaconal ministry in our towns and villages. The first day was brought to a close by pastor Oleg Fisher, who conducted a prayer service, where in the form of the dialogue he called participants of the Synod to consider their relationship with God.
On the second day, a few participants drove to village Andriivka of Kyiv region to visit a shelter for the homeless “Harbor”, opened in 2020 by “House of Mercy” – a partner organization of GELCU. It is curated by the congregation of St. Martin.
Its pastor Igor Shemigon gave a brief account on the shelter’s history and its present-day situation. The idea to open it was born when a few homeless clients of the “House of Mercy” with disabilities had their documents renewed but found no relatives or organizations to give them shelter. Then a fundraiser was announced to purchase a house and a plot of land in the village Andriivka. The largest part of the funding was collected through RazomGo crowdfunding platform.
Now the shelter hosts eleven men and women. Some of them are members of St. Martin’s congregation, some volunteered to go through the Basics of Christian Faith learning course, even though it is not a requirement to stay in the “Harbor” – the shelter accepts people regardless of their religious views. To be self-sufficient, the shelter has a small farming, however most of the boarders cannot work due to their poor health and constantly need volunteers to help them.
The participants of the Synod and the clients of the “House of Mercy” had a service with a sermon on the verse from the letter to Ephesians 2:2. Pastor Igor Shemigon noted that this verse does not only concurs with our vision of the Holy Spirit as the One who comforts and regenerates us, instructs, and confronts sin, but also the One, who builds all faithful together in one unified “habitation of God”. In the end of the service everyone was invited for dinner, where pastor Shemigon and predicant Berezin, who stays in the shelter as a volunteer, shared plans for the future expanding of the ministry.
The Synod meeting was an interesting experience for all: firstly, it was tightly connected with this year’s watchword, and secondly, helped the participants to delve deeper into the subject and find out about the practical ministry of other congregations.